Toronto Film Society presented Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) on Monday, February 2, 1981 in a double bill with Grand Hotel as part of the Season 33 Monday Evening Film Buff Series, Programme 6.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was established in 1924, with Louis B. Mayer as head of the studio and Irving Thalberg in charge of production. As part of a financial empire with powerful banking affiliations and a ready-made market in the form of Marcus Loew’s extensive chain of motion picture theatres, MGM grew and prospered rapidly. By the early 30s it was the biggest and richest Hollywood studio, a film factory of unequaled prestige and unprecedented glamour. With generous budgets at their disposal, Mayer and Thalberg could achieve for their product a technical polish that no other studio could consistently match. During its peak years, in the 30s and early 40s, the MGM roster included many of the most accomplished creative artists, technicians, and stars in the business. Art director Cedric Gibbons became famous for his sumptuous, elegant sets; costume designer Gilbert Adrian created gowns that influenced the fashions of the times; sound engineer Douglas Shearer (brother of Norma) was the most ingenious technician in the business. Cameramen like William Daniels, George Folsey, Karl Freund, Joseph Ruttenberg, and Harold Rosson created brilliant images in high-key lighting which became the studio’s trademark. Among the directors who passed through the studio gates were such artists as John Ford, Von Stroheim, King Vidor, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, Victor Seastrom, and Gregory La Cava. But the MGM style was more characteristically represented by the polished craftsmanship of such directors as Clarence Brown, Sidney Franklin, George Cukor, Jack Conway, Victor Fleming and W.S. Van Dyke. At the heart of the MGM glamour factory was its impressive company of stars. The studio boasted “more stars than there are in the heavens”; the impressive array including such names as Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, the Barrymores, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Spencer Tracy, Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, James Stewart, Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Myrna Loy, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, William Powell, Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and Elizabeth Taylor.
“In the long and crowded gallery of memorable portrayals on the screen, none stands out more clearly than that of Charles Laughton’s Captain Bligh in Frank Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty. In this enactment of the most famous naval mutiny in all history, Mr. Laughton gave an inspired performance of the British captain’s inhumanity, of despotism beyond all reason, and of incredible cruelty to his crew. One cannot recall another portrait of a tyrant performing within the limits of his lawful prerogatives, which were those of a sailing ship’s master in the late eighteenth century, to match in energy and detail the exhibit that Mr. Laughton gave of the captain of the Bounty on its historic voyage in the South Seas. Whether ordering the hideous keelhauling of a poor sailor who had merely besought an extra ration of drinking water, or compelling a master-at-arms to complete the specified flogging of a culprit who had already died beneath the lash, Mr. Laughton was a monument to brutality. Pacing the deck with his jaw jutted forward like a ship’s prow and his hands clasped firmly behind his back, he looked the evil embodiment of a monster prepared to destroy. Mr. Laughton’s characterization immortalized the name Bligh far beyond what had been accomplished by the writers of history. Or by James Norma Hall and Charles Nordhoff, from whose three exciting books–‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, ‘Men Against the Sea’, and ‘Pitcairn’s Island’–this splendid film was derived.”
Vintage Films by Bosley Crowther, G.P. Putnam, New York
“From the bare historical truths of a saga of the sea, the greatest maritime film since The Sea Hawk surges with virile force across the screen. Some of you, however, may miss the customary love interest and a justice-triumphant ending. For the story of the Bounty’s mutiny–faithfully culled from the Nordhoff-Hall book, is a brutal, sweat-and-blood tale of man’s inhumanity to man, and its tragic consequences. It is not a pretty film, but it is grand and real, and so are its characters…A superb sweep of reality distinguishes the entire film, which is finely mounted…”